(UPDATED COVERAGE, March 2) ORLANDO, Fla. — This year’s Southern Exposure retail and foodservice conference and exposition opened with strong participation.

Terry Vorhees, executive director of the Southeast Produce Council, said 1,540 participants were attending the Feb. 28-March 2 event at the Caribe Royal Resort & Conference Center.

He said he expects 1,550-1,600 to attend, similar to last year.

“So far, it’s going well,” Vorhees said on March 1. “We have good attendance this year.”

On March 1, the event opened with tours of area growing, packing and shipping operations.

At Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.’s potato, cabbage and broccoli operation in East Palatka, Adam Lytch, operations manager, discussed growing and packing from the 2,800 acres farmed by Larry Corn and his son Brent Corn. L&M started marketing vegetables for the Corns in 1952.

Southern Exposure opens with tours, high attendance“We just started harvesting St. Patty’s Day cabbage last week, a little earlier than normal,” Lytch said March 1. “The cold weather we recently had was no problem for the cabbage and broccoli, but the frost got a little potatoes. It should only set them back a week to 10 days.”

L&M normally begins spring potato harvest in early May.

Participants also toured Spice World Inc. in Orlando.

“This third-generation company started by selling garlic from a station wagon,” said Chris Whitson, vice president of sales. “We have grown so much over the years.”

Participants learned about the importance of innovative packaging and the need for immigration reform during March 2 educational sessions.

“As this is the Space Coast, Houston, we have a problem with the labor situation,” said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research for the Washington, D.C.-based American Nursery & Landscape Association. “But we’ve had a problem for years. The Southeast has long been one of the toughest geographical areas on this issue.

“In the Southeast, you don’t have to go too far to talk about states where leaders in the states have passed legislation that shoots agriculture in the foot if not a more sensitive piece of the anatomy.”

Events on March 1 included a “Back to the 80s” gala opening party and on March 2, the council hosted its trade show.